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La Liga de Las Americas

Thousands gather in Columbus to protest immigration proposal HR 4437

Associated Press Writer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP): Nearly 3,000 people, many wrapped in Mexican flags, rallied Sunday at the Statehouse in support of immigrants’ rights, part of a series of demonstrations across the country over the weekend.

Rubén Castilla Herrera confers with Mayor Michael Coleman

More than 500,000 people marched through downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, and groups of 10,000 marched through Phoenix and Milwaukee as President Bush and the Senate prepared to wrestle over what to do about the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States.

“Here in Ohio, we are the fastest-growing ethnic group,'' said Rubén Castilla Herrera of the Latino Leadership Initiative in Columbus, who helped organize the event. “We want people to know we're here and we're willing to stand up for our rights.

“People are listening to us. Politicians are listening to us. The message is getting out.''

President George W. Bush wants U.S. Congress to create a program to allow foreigners to gain legal status for a set amount of time to do specific jobs. When the time is up, they would be required to return home without an automatic path to citizenship—the majority of social organizations reject this proposal, as creating a sub-class or caste system.  

But Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., says the primary concern with immigration should be national security.

Proposals under consideration include making it a felony to be illegally in the United States, imposing new penalties on employers who hire illegal immigrants and erecting fences along one-third of the U.S.-Mexican border (over 700 miles of wall).

The heated debate makes little sense to 13-year-old Keilah Elder of Columbus, who wondered at Sunday's two-hour rally why people from Mexico are treated differently from people born in the United States.

“It's not fair,'' she said. “They come here to get a better life and some people treat them like they’re nothing.''

Alicia Duarte, 40, wiped away tears at the Columbus rally as she explained that she and her husband, Pedro Martínez, haven't seen their 18-year-old son in five years. They've been in the United States for 10 years and help pay their son's tuition for college in México, she said, but they can't visit him because they lack proper documentation and might not be allowed back.

“Everybody thinks we are terrorists, and we are working guys. They don't give me a chance,'' said Juan Santiago, 32, who works in heating and cooling and is married to an American.

Wendy Martínez, 42, an American-born health care worker from Columbus, said she's concerned about a proposal that would require medical personnel to verify a patient's immigration status before administering care.

“If you had a heart attack and you were laying on the street, would you want me to ask for your green card before performing CPR?'' she said.

Rico de La Prensa contributed to this report.





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